“Do you know why you're here?”
“Do you know why you're here?”
This interview was conducted in London in 2016. Aaron very kindly made the video at the bottom of the interview.
KP: I guess ‘here’ could mean at least two things, what do you mean by it?
AM: I mean ‘in existence’.
KP: The question implies a teleology or design, do you mean purpose? For example, I could tell you why a car exists – made by manufacturers etc, though that is different from saying – it exists to transport people – would either answer work for this question in your opinion?
AM: I think there is a link between the two. So I think I’m driving (forgive the pun) more at the latter, i.e. the purpose for being. However, I think you may need to identify the former in order to find the latter, so it is part of the journey. For example I could find that the car exists because Henry Ford created it. But then I could decide that the car was designed to be a very fancy jigsaw puzzle made simply to be disassembled and reassembled as a form of entertainment. I’d need to have a conversation with Henry Ford to find out what purpose the car was originally designed for. Although I imagine the purpose for the car could perhaps be somewhat ‘self evident’, or (in the context of finding purpose in our lives) broad enough to encompass multiple purposes.
KP: where would you begin to look for the answer as to ‘why’ we are here?
To find purpose for our lives I think we ultimately need to find something outside of ourselves. To find purpose in our world I think we ultimately need to look for something outside of our world. That is not to say that we can’t find answers to why we are here by looking within ourselves, because I think we can and should, but that the things we find inside ourselves should point to something beyond us. If it doesn’t point to something beyond/outside us then I don’t think we have found ‘ultimate’ meaning or purpose. I like to distinguish between meaning with a small ‘m’ and a big ‘M’ – ‘meaning’ with a small ‘m’ is meaning we assign to ourselves. We can make this to be whatever we choose. For example, I am here to have as much fun as possible, or to love my children, or to find a cure to cancer. This is like deciding the car is a giant jigsaw puzzle. It can be fun and useful but it is something we have assigned ourselves.
‘Meaning’ with a big ‘M’ is Meaning that transcends us. An ultimate purpose for which we were designed. This is finding out from Henry Ford that the car is made for moving people.
What I am looking for in my question is big M meaning. I believe the small ‘m’ meaning exists only inside a thinly lined bubble of ourselves. For example if I ask myself, “why is finding a cure for cancer the meaning of my life?’ it takes me back to the big M Meaning. If there is no big M Meaning then we could say, the world is purposeless, cancer is an organism like humans or any other type of creature/thing, it is neither good nor bad, and there is no reason why it should be eradicated and my ‘small m’ meaning collapses.
Trying to find ‘small m’ meaning without ‘big M’ Meaning is like waking up on a raft heading for a waterfall. You try to paddle to the left bank but the water is too strong. You try paddling to the right bank but it is of no use. You realise you are going over the falls where you will die so you decide you may as well lay back and enjoy the ride. The creation of ‘small m’ meaning (such as ‘I’m here just to enjoy the ride’) is futile if its all just going to oblivion without ‘big M’ Meaning.
So if ‘big M’ Meaning for our lives and our world takes us outside our lives and world then I think this takes us to the concept of God. Something or someone who is ‘before’ us and the world, ‘foundational’ to us and the world, ‘beyond’ us and the world. This brings us to religion and spirituality. There are obviously a lot of concepts of God. You will need to find out who or what this God is, but if you are searching in this realm then I think you are searching in the right place. You have had the courage to confront the possibility of purposefulness and the open-mindedness to step outside our beloved world of science.
KP: Do you know why you’re here? How did you discover that?
AM: I believe there is a God. I believe He has a plan and purpose for my life and our world. And I believe this plan and purpose is good.
The first reason I believe this is because I grew up as a Christian. Therefore I was taught or indoctrinated (depending on your perspective) that this is true. But even if I try and step back from this, and arrive in the world of religion/spirituality with fresh eyes (as best I can), I find the story of God and Jesus, as told in the Bible, is one that makes the most sense of life. It fits.
The Bible opens with a poem about the creation of the world. The repeated line in that poem as the world is created is ‘and God saw that it was good’. I don’t see the purpose of this creation account being to prove or disprove scientific understandings of evolution. I see it as a narrative that explains the world having a purpose. That it was made by a creator for good.
The second reason I believe my life has meaning and purpose is because it feels like it does. Now I know that this doesn’t sound very scientific (although that was the point, to move outside of science). And I also know that we can feel lots of things that are not true. But once again, these feelings actually seem to align best with reality.
It actually feels like doing good in the world is not just a nice idea but a way I’m supposed to live. When I do bad, I don’t feel like it is just a different life choice, but I feel like I’m undermining the way things are supposed to be. It feels like things matter, not just in a ‘that’s nice’ kind of way, but it a larger, expanded, really meaningful way.
I think this is also apparent with those who say they don’t believe there is any ultimate meaning to life. For example, an atheist who says that things just are as they are, a product of random, meaningless events. But I am yet to meet an atheist who lives like that. They all draw meaning from loving relationships or their work and in fact can be particularly passionate about something being right or wrong. And whilst they might say this is just ‘small m’ meaning in their lives, they seem to act like it is ‘big M’ Meaning. They don’t usually say, ‘Loving my wife and kids is something I made up in order to give my life meaning when I really know there is none’. They are more likely to say something like ‘Loving my wife and kids is integral to my being, to being who I am and doing what I am supposed to do.’
So when people who say there is no ‘big M’ Meaning act like there is, it makes me wary. And when I feel like there is ‘big M’ Meaning in my own life, it makes me search for its source. And when I find a God who explains that big M Meaning, and it fits with my experience and my understanding, then it seems it makes most sense to acknowledge that my life does have big M Meaning.
I acknowledge that I don’t always know the specific meaning of things in my life all the time. But to know that there is meaning and that it is good and it is life changing, especially in the most difficult times.